Gingrich: Government shutdown could happen over healthcare battle

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) said Tuesday that a government shutdown could occur should Republicans attempt to strip funding for the new healthcare law next Congress.

Gingrich, who as speaker was a key player in the government shutdown of 1995, said that if the GOP wins back majorities in Congress, it should attempt to remove funding for the $940 billion measure by passing appropriations bills that do not include money for the programs. 

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Should President Barack Obama continue to veto such measures, Gingrich said that the government could close like it did nearly 15 years ago over a budget dispute between the Republican Congress and President Bill Clinton.

"A simple majority can refuse to fund. So, if you have Boehner as speaker and Mitch McConnell as majority leader, all you have to do is not write into the appropriations bill the money," Gingrich said at a breakfast sponsored by The American Spectator and Americans for Tax Reform. "If the president vetoes the appropriations bills, you repass them.

"The president has got to make it into a positive political issue to veto the appropriations bills. Remember, the only person who can close the government is the president. If you're prepared to pass the appropriations bills, he has to decide to veto a bill you have passed. And so you simply pass a bill."

His comments come as Republicans in Congress are contemplating ways to negate the healthcare law that passed with only Democratic votes.

Gingrich is part of a group of conservatives calling for a full repeal of the bill, but he said that could only happen after a Republican is in the White House with GOP majorities in Congress.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) earlier this month suggested a similar idea to the one Gingrich proposed Tuesday morning, but did not mention a government shutdown.

Gingrich received heavy criticism for helping to engineer the shutdown after it was reported he said that it was partially a result of Clinton's making former Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) and him sit at the back of Air Force One.

The former speaker said that if a shutdown happens this time around, Republicans need to control the message better. 

"You have to consistently communicate key messages because the presidency is such a powerful instrument," he said. "I think this city has fundamentally misunderstood what happened with the shutdown. To most of the country, it became a signal that we were serious...If we win we have every right to say 'the American people have spoken."

Asked if he would encourage the Republicans to push for a shutdown, Gingrich said that the GOP needs to be ready to stand on principle.

"It's especially important that they keep their word to the American people," he told The Hill. "[They] can't be intimidated...you have to believe what you believe in."